Importance of Scaffolded Learning


I have had the pleasure of working with colleagues across the higher education, vocational and secondary education sectors as part of a 2015-2017 National Office of Learning and Teaching flipped classroom project that we titled: “Translating Concept to Practice”, acknowledging that we as teachers, needed to develop the capacity to design and deliver effective flipped classrooms, underpinned by an evidence-based approach.

For some, the term ‘flipping’ is considered as a somewhat flippant trend in education and a fad that will come and go. Concerned colleagues have told me that flipped learning is all about ‘dumbing down’ academic standards. In fact, it is quite the contrary. True flipped classrooms are capable of turning everything you ever thought about teaching upside down. Educational commentators have always promoted the importance of instructional design by starting with the end point in mind, a backward learning design approach for constructive alignment. Just like an architect, a teacher must scaffold student learning and design learning experiences that are carefully linked. Aligning learning outcomes and assessment to pre-class, in-class and post class activities is what flipped learning is all about. It is about alleviating cognitive overload, and culling unnecessary teacher driven content that burdens students and impedes the students’ ability to engage in deep and meaningful learning.

My flipped learning colleagues and I recognise that the most effective way to design flipped classrooms is to work in teams of critical friends, just like we expect our students to do. Discovering the effectiveness of working with colleagues to advance my own teaching practices I jumped at the opportunity to facilitate a Flipped Classroom Community of Practice at the University of Adelaide in January 2015. Today our FC CoP consists of 35 cross disciplinary academics, students and academic developers, to peer review each other’s flipped classroom designs, whilst engaging in scholarly activity.  We ensure that our flipped classroom model, based on constructive alignment is robust and peer reviewed. To facilitate this constructive alignment our Community of Practice members have developed a flipped classroom design framework that helps teachers in the design of their flipped classes. This framework provides teachers with a ‘how to guide’ yet allowing for a diversity of approaches and interpretations that are necessary for flipping to work in different educational and professional contexts.

Colleagues across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada have collaboratively developed a set of peer reviewed principles that guide the planning, implementation and evaluation of flipped classrooms. These principles include:

  • Careful linkage of all learning segments (pre-class, in-class and post-class) to learning outcomes and assessment.
  • Pre-class activities that are succinct, interactive and designed to motivate and engage students in ‘topic orientation’.
  • Culling unnecessary content to stay mindful of cognitive overload so students can see the relevance of learning to real world applications
  • Embedding interactivity for feedback in all learning segments, pre-class, in-class and post class.

A wonderful instructional design model, the Café Tool Kit  developed by colleagues at the Southern Cross University here in Queensland, provides a stepwise approach to managing cognitive overload.

  • Feedback loops– embedded interactivity from the pre-class activity sets the tone for student engagement through feedback mechanisms that help students monitor their understanding.
  • Student Induction– This is a crucial aspect of flipped learning. Teachers need to explain the reason why this method of learning is adopted, the initial challenges that students may face and strategies they could use to overcome these.
  • Explicit Instructions – Students need to know how and when the pre-class activities will be undertaken and provide them with a due date for completion. Release the pre-class at least a week before the scheduled class session.
  • Teacher and student accountability – Make learning count. Students will engage in pre-class activities when they see that the teacher responds to emerging learning issues that are addressed in class.
  • Make learning relevant and interactive– In-class and post class activities need to be contextualised. When students attend the class session, learning activities must provide students with opportunities to analyse and apply the pre-class key concepts to authentic and real-world situations. This will highlight the relevance of what they are learning to their future graduate contexts.


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Sophia Karanicolas

Sophia Karanicolas, Associate Professor, University of Adelaide

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